Friday, January 2, 2009

Looking Into the Winter Sky

It might seem that living in a small town means being isolated from the rest of the world: cut off from the ebb and flow of ideas and the rolling wheels of commerce.

Perhaps, but as I gaze out at the starlit sky the universe itself seems as close as the looming trees.

Orion stands in the southern sky, with Rigel, Bellatrix, and Betelgeuse shining like streetlights on some celestial boulevard. Beyond them, the Milky Way marks a galactic horizon.

Somewhere, in the darkness between those glittering lights, other galaxies spin. I can only make one out: the one in Andromeda, toward the west. It beckons, like a neighboring island might to a shipwrecked sailor.

Gazing into the ebon immensity of the intergalactic void, I remember the poet Tennyson's words:

"Many a hearth upon our dark globe sighs after many a vanish'd face,
"Many a planet by many a sun may roll with a dust of a vanish'd race.

"Raving politics, never at rest—as this poor earth's pale history runs,—
"What is it all but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million of suns?..."

Vastness. That was the name of the poem.

I wonder: did Tennyson look out on a sky like this when he wrote that?

As I glance from star to star, am I, unaware, looking into the distant eyes of another watcher? If we met, what would we discover we have in common?

Besides being in the middle of a power outage.

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